At 100, the Gucci brand has weathered many monumental events: A World War, the changing tides of the fashion world, and, of course, many a scandal (see the much-hyped 'House of Gucci'). As the house celebrates its centennial this year, creative director Alessandro Michele was faced with a new challenge: How does one fully capture the history of a storied, 100-year-old brand such as Gucci without falling prey to mawkish sentiment and cliches?
For Michele, that involves getting a little philosophical. His pre-show letter is filled with quotes from creatives and academics throughout history. But perhaps the most telling is one from Spanish philosopher María Zambrano, who believed that within art lay the potential for transcendence: It is that concept of "endless births" that Michele taps on for Gucci Aria.
Set against a cacophony of trap music – Lil Pump's emblematic 'Gucci Gang', Rick Ross' 'Green Gucci Suit' and Bhad Bhabie's 'Gucci Flip Flops' – the Aria show toyed with tradition and what had come before, but was never irreverent, nor saccharine. The fact that the show premiered as a wonderfully straight- forward Instagram Live video might seem apocalyptic to some, but to others, it heralded the dawn of a new era – for both Gucci and the realm it resides in.
The Aria show opened with a nod to Guccio Gucci's own humble roots. After the first world war, the eponymous founder moved to London in search of better fortunes – like so many immigrants of the time – and became a liftboy at the famed Savoy Hotel.
Now, the Savoy Hotel returns, reimagined as an alluring, neon-lit club. But instead of the promised bacchanalia, models walked down a white, purgatory-like hallway lined with clusters of cameras and stage-lights – bulbs frenetically firing as they walk – a pointed reference to the times. Models came dressed in an assemblage of looks that drew inspiration from all corners of the house's history and more: There were the references to old-Hollywood glam, hints of the equestrian world, and even elements of kink and bondage.
"Gucci becomes for me a hacking lab, made of incursions and metamorphoses," said Michele. "[It is] an alchemical factory of contaminations where everything connects to anything."
The most obvious touchpoint for that connection in the Aria show would be, of course, the Balenciaga iconography – laden on structural menswear staples like blazers and a graphic version of the Balenciaga Jackie bag; it speaks to Michele's affection for Demna Gvasalia's "nonconformist rigour".
Michele also borrows from Tom Ford's decade-long stint at Gucci – specifically, the "sexual tension" present in his works from that era. That translates to kink-like body harnesses, tantalising sheer dresses, and, of course, that sensuous red velvet suit worn by Gwyneth Paltrow in 1996 – now given a harder edge with the inclusion of a sinuous choker chain.
“Tom understood right from the beginning that Gucci had some kind of magnetism, this cult power,” Michele said.
It all speaks to Michele's desire not just for nostalgia, but for connection – the connection of the old to the new, and everything in between.
"Gucci is a complex container that holds many, many things," said Michele. "I am trying to renew for the millionth time this brand, this name, this myth, this saga."